Will They Read It?

MIKE MUSGROVE
FS View
Florida State Univers

Ever have that nagging doubt if your friends actually read the forwarded jokes you keep sending them?

A new, subscription-based service called DidTheyReadIt aims to satisfy correspondents’ curiosity.

The service (www.didtheyreadit.com) will notify its users via e-mail when recipients open a message sent using its technology — including the time and geographic area in which each e-mail was read.

Alastair Rampell, chief executive of Rampell Software, DidTheyReadIt’s parent company, said he has gotten some flak from people rattled by privacy concerns over the service.

He said his service — it costs $9.99 a month, $39.99 for six months or $49.99 a year — is more like caller ID.

“You never really know if your mail gets through or not,” he said. “Spam is so ubiquitous that it’s not that rare that regular e-mail gets classified as spam.”

DidTheyReadIt happens to rely on a tactic used by spammers to build their mailing lists. Each message sent through DidTheyReadIt contains a link to a tiny, invisible “Web beacon” image file hosted on the company’s Web site. DidTheyReadIt will then log when the message is opened and the beacon is viewed — assuming the recipient’s mail program can display Web-formatted e-mail, as most do.

This approach also allows the service to track how long the message stays open and where it gets forwarded. It collects its geographic data by analyzing the Internet Protocol address of the computer the message is read from (this identifier is sent automatically every time you view a bit of Web content).

Unlike the “read receipts” some users attach to messages, DidTheyReadIt doesn’t announce its presence to a recipient. But it can be defeated; Bryson Gordon, a security expert at McAfee Security, said turning off the display of Web graphics in your e-mail program squelches this tracking.

Copyright FS View